When creating a romantic story, I draw inspiration from my life experiences together with newspaper or magazine articles. They mash together in my mind like a crazy patchwork as pieces jostle around until they fit together and are dramatized.
A theme emerges that gets me started with the story and also helps me empathize with my characters’ journeys.
My most recently self-published novel, ‘The Italian Billionaire’s Secret Baby', several elements came together to inspire Katrina’s character. As a child, I dreamed of being a ballerina. I was fortunate enough to go to classical ballet classes at a very good school. Each year there was a concert held at the town hall. The Victorian-style theatre with balcony seating was very grand.
I can recall how it felt to dance on a stage in front of hundreds of people. Even if I was only a flower on the edge of swan lake I loved the excitement of being backstage, having my makeup done by the older ballerinas and how the precious tulle skirt felt against my legs. I remember the nerves and adrenaline rush when it was my cue to go on stage. I wrote a blog on my website about that time called Memories of Being a Ballet Dancer.
When I read a magazine article about a ballerina who’d received a grant to help her in returning to dance for The Australian Ballet company after having a baby, a seed was sewn that matched with my ballet dancing experience. Katrina’s character came to life in my mind, a ballerina who had a baby and is now returning to dancing but the father discovers she’s had his child through the publicity she was given as a grant recipient.
When traveling in Italy I enjoyed the northern lakes so much, dining on stone terraces overlooking a lake while the sunset was so incredibly romantic. While driving to the shops one day, we went past a car company that I’d never heard of in Australia. I don’t even remember the name of it now, but the idea of an Italian Aristocrat who’d inherited his racing car driver father’s company popped into my mind.
I’d once been a fangirl of Ayrton Senna, the Grand Prix champion and a dashingly handsome young maverick. I was so sad when he died in a crash on the track.
I found inspiration for the daddy for Katrina’s Baby. Alessandro Rinaldo was the son of a racing car driver who had died on the track. He’d become a champion himself following in his father’s footsteps but had promised his mother that he’d never marry while still racing so that he didn’t break a woman’s heart like hers had been if he was killed.
More pieces of the puzzle came together when I discovered that the Grand Prix race held in Melbourne coincided with the Australian Ballet Company season there. Also, another piece is that the Italian world-renowned Ballet company home is the Teatro De Scala in Milan where nearby is also the famous Grand Prix track at Monza.
I could now place these two people in each other’s home cities through their work. He and Katrina had met at a society function in Melbourne and later and had a whirlwind romance when she won a place at the La Scala ballet company. So they could be together in Europe they married, but he did it in secret and made a pact with her that they didn’t have children. When she fell pregnant Katrina didn’t expect him to want the baby because when she’d found her birth father he rejected the connection. She had firsthand experience that when men say they don’t want a child, they meant it.
She left Italy and came home to Australia to have her baby. The theme is about father-child relationships. What does it mean to be a Dad, and how far will you go to accept a child into your life or reject it. I personally have a very loving relationship with my Dad, I could empathize with Katrina's heartache over being denied a father’s love and wanting to protect her child from the pain of rejection, and also with Alessandro who’d unwittingly deprived himself of the gift of fatherhood but strongly wants to make amends.
The scene where Alessandro surprises Katrina mid-pirouette at her rehearsal and confronts her about their child came to me in its entirety, like watching a movie.
The book The Italian Billionaire’s Secret Baby was born. The working title back then was the Rinaldo Heir. I still like the working title but thought the published title would let people know what the book theme was about more. Which one do you prefer? Perhaps you can think of one that I didn’t.
Here’s an excerpt from the opening chapter.
Alessandro Rinaldo, Italy’s darling F1 champion checked his rearview mirror as he took the premium position at the top of the track on the last corner. The car behind drifted a fraction down the steep incline in a challenge to his lead. Alessandro always succeeded at whatever he set out to do. The other driver knew that but would be ready to take advantage the minute Alessandro gave him a tiny break.
They went deeper into the tight corner. Alessandro focused on the camber of the track, his speed, the distance from the wall. But then, a photo he’d seen of Katrina flashed through his mind. She stood on pointe in a pink tutu holding a baby that had his eyes and his father’s smile. The punch in the chest hit him again. A child he’d never met or even knew existed was as familiar to him as his own face.
He should never have opened his emails. Never read the ballet company donors’ newsletter when preparing for a race. A week ago he’d discovered that his estranged wife had born a child. His child! He’d decided to put the information in his lawyer's hands while he focused on the race, but his will obviously wasn’t strong enough to keep thoughts of her and his child out. His lawyer confirmed that the child was DNA tested shortly after birth, his name was on the birth certificate. Why would she have done this without telling him?
A bitter taste flooded his mouth just as the challenger behind pulled down sharply from the turn in a suicidal attempt to overtake on the inside. Alessandro checked his speed, too slow. The desperate challenger capitalized on Alessandro’s momentary distraction.
If Alessandro moved an inch from the barrier, they would clip wheels, but if he sped up, he could scrape the wall. He must maintain his current position if he wanted to win this race. And he wanted to win this one more than ever. The revelation that he was a father meant he had to keep the promise he’d made. This would be his last year on the circuit.
He hadn’t made this choice. Katrina had gone against their agreement, not to have children. But even if she hadn’t planned it. Not telling him wasn’t fair; they’d made a baby together. She must have been attempting to tell him the last night they were together. God knows he hadn’t made it easy for her. But two years? Not finding a way to tell him in all that time was betrayal, pure and simple. He inhaled deeply and tried to concentrate. I can’t think about that now. I have a race to win.
He pressed the accelerator. Alessandro, formula one world champion, must put this challenge down. No one was going to get the better of him, and definitely not here on the track. But the nearest driver was now beside him and keeping him pinned against the wall. If he pushed in front to take his chances, he’d be gambling with both their lives. Dying or winning was on the table, as it always was during a race, but this time was different. The father in him was young and he’d only known for a week that a child existed, but the impact was high. It demanded survival; squashed the idea of dying.
He took his foot off the gas just enough to keep him in second place, but the challenger was going too fast now, drifting up the track. Fear spiraled though Alessandro and tangled in his gut.
Braking hard would put the rest of the field behind them into peril but keeping up this speed meant the two of them would lock wheels on a tight curve. Losing control would result in a major disaster. He did the only thing he could to save everyone. He let the beautiful car, which he’d spent a year engineering, drift up into the barrier.
Metal screamed. In his rear mirror, the cars behind were braking and steering away down the track. The idiot beside him shot ahead. After the pack had past Alessandro pulled his disabled car off the barrier. He‘d thrown the race, his distraction had given the challenger an opportunity. His aching, stiff shoulders slumped.
His tire had a wobble from being pushed against the barrier, and the front guard scrapped it but suddenly dug into it. His back end flipped out and now the front of his car dove into the barrier. The machine lifted briefly and smashed back to the ground before spinning away down the track. The world flashed again and again. I gave the race away, and I’m going to die anyway.
Highly combustible fuel vapor prickled his nostrils. Metal scraping on metal meant sparks would be flying. His grandfather, his father and now himself all dying the same way. At that moment a strange sense of peace came over him. He resigned himself to his fate, and then he remembered his child. A child he’d never meet. His fists gripped the wheel as, instinctively, he fought to gain control, desperate to live.
The world spun and spun, but the car slowed and eventually stopped turning. He landed on the inside on the race track. A miracle. He unclipped and forced himself to breathe slowly while he waited for the emergency team to arrive and pull him out. He prayed the miracle held and a fire didn’t start before they could get to him. Before he could meet and hold his child. His son.
This child he wouldn’t lose, not like the last time he’d loved a child he thought was his.
Twirling en pointe, Katrina Baxter focused on the corner of the dance studio, marking each revolution.
Tangled, jarring worries about Alessandro’s crash yesterday had played over and over in her mind. The father of her baby had nearly died. Her heart had been in her mouth as she watched the rescue crew pull him from the vehicle. Relief had softened the ache in her chest when he gave a jaunty thumbs up.
She turned faster. Eventually, the prickling memories receded. She breathed deep into her calm center when a reflection – brooding, dark and lithe – flashed past in the long wall mirror. Her breath caught in her throat. A shiver flew down her spine. Her supporting leg shifted a fraction from its axis, and that troublesome kneecap threatened to slip.
Had the vision been her imagination? An apparition, perhaps?
Searing pain shot up the nerve but Katrina, a seasoned prima ballerina, resisted her body’s instinct to collapse and relieve the weight on her knee. Instead, she reined in her outstretched right leg, which had been poised for another momentum-filled pump, and relaxed it. Not the barest hint of a wobble, no matter how severe the pain. Controlling her spin with out-stretched arms, she slowed and used the pain that spread up her leg to drive her focus on that corner.
She landed in perfect, fourth position. Her critical gaze flicked to the mirror to check her form. The screaming pain in her knee had not disturbed the fluid grace of her landing. If this had happened on stage, the audience would never have known. If her father had been watching he’d have been proud of her. Never missing a performance, he only noticed her when she was dancing.
Her body line passed inspection. The extra weight had been burned off months ago, and her stomach muscles were tight and flat. Satisfied, she allowed herself to step forward. Favoring her throbbing knee, she limped to her towel.
Alessandro Rinaldo’s reflection stepped into full view. He clapped in slow applause. Six feet of lean, dressed-to-impress, created a perfect foil against the varnished brick, rear wall. His gaze found hers in the mirror. Katarina’s heart pounded as she gulped for air. Her finely tuned body released a rush of adrenaline equal to opening night. She pressed a hand to her heaving chest.
Soft, dark brown hair fell in waves on his forehead. His muscle toned neck disappeared into the vee of his open polo, stirred a need that had gone unmet since the last time he’d held her. She took a painful gulp over the knot in her throat.